Before I left for my semester studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was well aware that soccer is the biggest sport here. To be honest, I was unsure how I felt about that—as much as I love watching the FIFA World and European Cups, I knew I would miss the fast-paced sports I’ve always watched and grew up with. However, what I perceived fútbol lacked in thrill was compensated by its complete cohabitation with Argentine culture, whether it be within my own house or the arts, and its crazed fans.
Within the city of Buenos Aires lie six major soccer teams in the Primera División (All Boys, Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo, and Vélez Sársfield), and within this division there are major rivalries. The first night I met my host family, they expressed that they were fans of Boca Juniors. My five-year-old host brother showed me his card collection of last-season’s team players. He made sure to point out his favorite, and immediately after, my host mother said that she is unsure what she feels most passionate about: her love for Boca or her hatred towards River Plate. The amount of loyalty everyone has to his or her respective team is indescribable but can outdone only by the country’s undying devotion to FC Barcelona striker and Argentine-native Lionel Messi.
When walking around the city, you are bound to run into some form of memorabilia of a club team, the national team, or the sport in general. The parks are abundant with soccer matches—although significantly smaller than an actual field, the parks generally have 6-8 turf playing grounds with different games going on from early in the day until midnight.
Soccer is very much a part of the Argentine arts scene, as well. For the past two weeks, various tango and ballet companies have come into Buenos Aires for the Tango – Festival y Mundial de Baile. This past Sunday, a company performed a piece called “El Tango y el Fútbol,” managing to tie together two of Argentina’s most well known attractions. While I’m still trying to figure out how they managed to connect the two into a 90-minute routine, it is just another case demonstrating how soccer is inescapable in this South American nation state.
Sometimes, though, that passion gets out of control. While I’ve been abroad, the National Football League recently expanded its 2008 Fan Code of Conduct to include a four-hour online course an ejected fan must complete in order for them to re-enter the stadium’s stands. Darren Rovell, author of the online ESPN article NFL gets serious about fan conduct, explains further “the course, designed by psychotherapist Dr. Ari Novick, in tandem with the MetLife Stadium security director Daniel DeLorenzi, focuses on alcohol abuse, anger management, and crude behavior.”
This struck me as an unusual way of dealing with belligerent fans at games, and it will be interesting to see how it will succeed back in the States. Then I considered how the new rule would fare in soccer-crazed Argentina. Here, violence is almost a guarantee at a soccer match due to the presence of the organized fan groups, or “barras bravas,” that correspond with each club team.
While the first barras bravas—which literally means “hooligans”—were organized starting in the 1950s, violence relating to soccer in Argentina dates back to 1924 when a murder was committed after Argentina fell to Uruguay during the final match of the South American Championship. Most recently during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, members of the Boca Juniors and Independiente barras bravas got into a fight the day before the quarterfinal match between Argentina and Germany. A member of the Boca Juniors barra brava was fatally injured during this fight, passing away the next day in the hospital.
While such acts of violence in sport may seem horrific, aggressive sports-induced outbursts don’t always occur outside our borders. A 2011 NFL football preseason game between Bay-area rival San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders tallied a total of four attacks: two men were beaten unconscious, one was shot four times, and another was killed in a parking lot outside of Candlestick Park. Violence struck again this past month after a Raiders-Cardinals preseason game where a Raiders fan was shot in the face by a Cardinals fan.
What I’ve learned is that no culture is superior. Whether it’s football or fútbol, sport is sport. Though I take no comfort in violence, it was really eye-opening to see that a love for sports teams is something that occurs across cultures. Fandom is universal.
While I have yet to attend a soccer match in my six weeks here in Argentina, I’m looking forward in immersing myself in the culture in a country as passionate about their teams as we are. That, and I’m excited to yell “GOAL!” at the top of my lungs.